It’s Valentine’s Day–What are You Negotiating?

There are a batch of writings today in the papers and the blogosphere about how to maintain happy relationships and I thought it would be fun to connect to a few. 

First, there was a great post today by Dayana Yochim in The Motley Fool entitled How to Win Your Next Money Fight Romantic poet William Blake wrote that “Without contraries is no progression.”  So Yochim argues that we should “go ahead and disagree with your significant other — even dredge up and deal with your money maladies — because, says Blake, working your way through the “contraries” — those fiscal annoyances, spending anomalies, and financial shortcomings — will actually help your relationship progress.”  She turns to Beyond Reason by Roger Fisher and Dan Shapiro for particular advice in how to deal with these conversations, noting “I think it’s safe to deduce that even a century ago, the “my way or the highway” school of conflict management wasn’t very effective, unless you liked sleeping in the barn.”  She notes that ignoring the emotions tied into these negotiations is a recipe for disaster.  Wise woman!

At the same time, other relationship gurus advise us to be aware of how different genders deal with emotion and negotiations.  For particular advice on how husbands should negotiate on Valentine’s Day, John Tierney of the New York Times wrote a few years ago in Valentine’s Day Homework that men need a To-Do List with items including “listen without judgment” and “support her interests.”  These particular pieces sound like pretty good negotiation advice in any situation.  Tierney, quoting from psychologist Scott Halzman’s book The Secrets of Happily Married Men, notes that men are better at following a list of tasks (hence the To-Do List) rather than talking about their concerns.  Men “can’t express their emotions or empathize as well as women can. Telling a man to solve his marital problems by talking about his emotions for an hour is like telling a woman to solve her problems at the office by joining the guys for a weekend game of paintball.” 

So what to do with this somewhat contradictory advice regarding relationships, emotion, and romance?  Perhaps our task is to recognize our emotions, deal with them as part of the negotiation, and also recognize that your romantic partner may have a completely different comfort level regarding these.  I suppose that’s what makes the world go ’round!

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